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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

9781780874883Lennox liked Quiet Tommy Quaid. Perhaps it’s odd for a private detective to like – even admire – a career thief, but Quiet Tommy Quaid was the sort of man everyone liked. Amiable, easy-going, well-dressed, with no vices to speak of – well, aside from his excessive drinking and womanising, but then in 1950s Glasgow those are practically virtues. And besides, throughout his many exploits outside the law, Quiet Tommy never once used violence. It was rumoured to be the police who gave him his nickname – because whenever they caught him, which was not often, he always came quietly. So probably even the police liked him, deep down. Above all, the reason people liked Tommy was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was simply and totally who and what he seemed to be. But when Tommy turns up dead, Lennox and the rest of Glasgow will find out just how wrong they were…

Hallelujah! After a too-long intermission, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, the fifth in Craig Russell’s unmissable Lennox series has arrived. Having reviewed the previous four books, Lennox, The Long Glasgow Kiss, The Deep Dark Sleep and Dead Men and Broken Hearts, the Raven is cock-a-hoop that the inimitable Lennox has returned and in some style…

So let’s get a grip on that excitement and try to bring you a measured, thoughtful and calm review of The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, as this could all too easily just slip into a chain of superlatives as a testament to the sheer brilliance of Mr Russell. Taking us back again to the post war years of 1950’s Glasgow, Lennox is still plying his trade as a private detective after the emotional crisis in his personal life he is still subconsciously at least, trying to come to terms with. Fret not, if this is your first foray into the series, as Russell makes it easy to catch up with the salient events of the previous books, and provides ample background to the mercurial and charming Lennox. When Lennox is retained by a shifty stranger to acquire, not entirely legally, some important documents he calls on the help of career thief, the eponymous Thomas Quaid, to assist him. The dire results for the wee, quiet man Quaid, sets Lennox on a dangerous path to avenge his friend’s death, and uncover a conspiracy with far reaching results.

Writing this review from the perspective of a dedicated reader of the series, I was instantly immersed back into this world despite the lengthy hiatus between books. Russell once again places Lennox front and centre of all the action, with his inherent easy charm underscored by the dangerous, bubbling tension that exudes from him. Lennox’s natural humour and cynicism permeates the book once again, in the good old style of the hard-boiled private investigator tradition, but he is as always a man of determination, deep-seated morality, and not averse to getting his hands dirty. Or his knuckles bruised. He has some shady gangster connections, with Russell once again referencing The Three Kings; a disparate trinity of gangland bosses who control and manipulate the criminal world of Glasgow, and Handsome Johnny Cohen, one of the three bosses, has a significant part to play in this book. Lennox is also assisted in his mission by the brilliant ‘Twinkletoes’ McBride, (think bolt-cutters and This Little Piggy), a haystack of an enforcer whose woeful attempts to improve his word-power by regular reading of the Reader’s Digest leads to some excruciating mispronunciations and, by turn, moments of biting wit. Throughout the characterisation of his main protagonists, and the assorted miscreants, schemers, and ne’er- do-wells, that thwart their path, Russell has again drawn a colourful and engaging world, which you cannot help but be drawn into completely. The lightness of touch applied to some of the characterisation is balanced beautifully by some moments of raw emotion and introspection that give an added weight and differing perception to the reader of the tough guy characters, once again spotlighting Russell’s intuitive and accomplished stature as a writer.

Russell perfectly evokes the feel of the period, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. I love this series. More please…and soon… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

Russel D McLean- And When I Die

CpcRLrnWYAAiAxqBorn into one of Glasgow’s most brutal crime syndicates, Kat Scobie has fought long and hard to forge her own path in a world where no choices are given. She thought she’d escaped. She thought she was different. But as her relatives gather to mourn the death of their most feared son, Kat is drawn inexorably back into their hellish world. And she’s not the only Scobie who resents the family dynamic. Because Ray Scobie isn’t dead. He’s near fatally wounded and hell-bent on revenge, and he knows his own father ordered his murder. Now the only person who can stop the carnage is Kat’s ex-lover John, a cop who’s so deep undercover he’s started to lose himself. With his cover crumbling around him, John’s about to discover that families can be murder…

And When I Die from Russel D McLean proved an interesting read from the outset, treading the path of established gangland writers, Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers et al, by focussing mainly on a female character either at odds with, or fully immersed in the male-centric power of a gangland family. Not being a fan of the aforementioned writers, what McLean provides here is a refreshing antidote in a usually cliché filled genre, in this tense gangland thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Glasgow.

Told from different narrative viewpoints, what McLean perfectly executes is a sensitive and believable depiction of a woman torn between family loyalty, but ingrained with a desperate need to cut these ties and strike out on her own. Kat Scobie had temporarily escaped her violent background, and the relationship she had formed with unbeknownst to her an undercover police officer, John Grogan who so easily infiltrated her family. Returning to Glasgow for the funeral of a family member, Kat is drawn back into the power play of her family, and John’s influence, at considerable physical and emotional stress to herself. She proves an incredibly empathetic and noble character, with a fierce sense of loyalty to one relative in particular, Ray, who finds himself physically threatened, and forced into a violent course of action, inveigling Kat in his personal vendetta. She finds herself increasingly conflicted, and McLean’s characterisation of the emotional turmoil she experiences is absolutely spot on throughout, effortlessly taking the reader with her, and enabling us to fully experience the gamut of emotions she experiences and seeks to come to terms with. McLean carefully interweaves incidents from her past, to bolster the ties between herself and Ray, and there is a taut and uncompromising journey for her as the book progresses.

Equally, McLean imbues his tough male protagonists with a conflicting range of emotional and violent impulses. Ray has a little understood physical condition that negates his ability to feel pain, and undercover officer Grogan is beginning to lose all sense of self due to his deep infiltration into the dark and violent world of the Scobie family, but increasingly conflicted by the powerhouse of emotions that Kat raises within him. McLean carefully manipulates the dialogue and rhythm of speech in his male characters, and in a similar style to fellow countryman Malcolm Mackay, exhibits a wonderful pared down, rat-a-tat rhythm to the prose. With Kat, there is more enhanced interior and exterior monologue, reflecting the differing emotional sensibilities between her and the male characters, and her deeper examination of the inherent danger she finds herself drawn into on her return to the family fold. In his characterisation of both Ray and Grogan, the reader is pivoted from feelings of repulsion to empathy and back again, as both demonstrate a kind of twisted nobility, counterbalanced by selfishness and a violent impulse to survive in this dark world.

McLean was a completely new to me author, and having a previous five thrillers to his name, is a writer I shall be definitely be seeking out again on the basis of And When I Die, a compelling, spare, thoughtful and at times brutally violent thriller. How could I have missed out on him? Recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Robert Bailey- Between Black and White

between-black-and-white-cover

In 1966 in Pulaski, Tennessee, Bocephus Haynes watched in horror as his father was brutally murdered by ten local members of the Ku Klux Klan. As an African American lawyer practicing in the birthplace of the Klan years later, Bo has spent his life pursuing justice in his father’s name. But when Andy Walton, the man believed to have led the lynch mob forty-five years earlier, ends up murdered in the same spot as Bo’s father, Bo becomes the prime suspect.

Retired law professor Tom McMurtrie, Bo’s former teacher and friend, is a year removed from returning to the courtroom. Now McMurtrie and his headstrong partner, Rick Drake, must defend Bo on charges of capital murder while hunting for Andy Walton’s true killer. In a courtroom clash that will put their reputations and lives at stake, can McMurtrie and Drake release Bo from a lifetime of despair? Or will justice remain hidden somewhere between black and white?

Prepare to immerse yourself in the tinderbox tension of racially divided Tennessee in Robert Bailey’s legal thriller Between Black and White, and what a thriller it is…

This is an incredibly character driven book from the accused and extremely empathetic Bocephus Haynes, to the small band of men dedicated to clearing his name. Haynes, having witnessed the death of his father at the hands of the KKK as a young child, has devoted his life to both the law, and to bringing his father’s killers to justice. What Bailey so ardently portrays within Haynes’ character is the toll this has wreaked on both his sense of self, and his relationship with those closest to him. He is a man of warring morality, with his strong belief in the due process of law, and yet the primal urge to dispense justice outside of it, having made physical threats to the now aged Andy Walton, the man he believes was instrumental in his father’s killing. Haynes rides a gamut of emotions throughout the books, bringing the reader with him, as he is essentially a good man but is he a killer too? Bailey carefully manipulates his character from the outspoken and strident avenger to a man placed firmly in the hands of his legal team whose endeavours on his behalf will ultimately decide his fate.

His retired law professor Tom McMurtrie, young lawyer Rick Drake, and ex-divorce lawyer, now drunkard, Ray Pickalew, make up the merry band fighting to clear Haynes’ name, going into battle against ballsy local prosecutor Helen Lewis. All four of these characters are incredibly well-drawn, and Haynes’ team in particular are put through a real emotional and physical wringer as the plot progresses. The ties that bind in terms of personal loyalty to Haynes are stretched and tightened by Bailey’s assured depiction of McMurtrie and Pickalew in particular, when surprising revelations come to the surface as the courtroom action comes to the forefront. The characterisation, and the interplay between these protagonists, hold the plot and pace extremely well throughout, and Bailey lines up a similar crew of dastardly and not-so dastardly surrounding cast perfectly placed to thwart or aid the defence of Haynes.

The setting of Pulaski, Tennessee adds another layer to the plot, being the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and a town steeped in racial tension, with a chequered and violent history. Bailey takes some interesting diversions along the way with his depiction of the town and its history that bolster the atmosphere of the book, but never to the detriment of the pace of the story. The courtroom itself instantly brought to mind shades of To Kill A Mockingbird, with its segregated layout, and the references to the social and legal history of Pulaski itself. Bailey’s measured use of his chosen location lifts and enhances his already assured plot further, and I found these interludes of potted history very interesting indeed, as we bear witness to not only the current events but those of forty five years previously. He also depicts very well the strata of power and influence within this community, again linked so closely to the history of the town, and the seemingly unassailable challenge that Haynes’ legal team are confronted with to bring those with local stature to justice.

I will confess that legal thrillers as a rule are not really a favourite genre of mine, but I do have a keen interest in the chequered racial history of the United States, so was drawn to Between Black and White for that reason. With Bailey’s own background as a lawyer adding a real authenticity to the plot, and his exemplary characterisation, the control of tension, and pitch perfect use of historical fact throughout, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Thomas and Mercer for the ARC)

 

Blog Tour- Rod Reynolds- Black Night Falling

Black Night FallingHaving left Texarkana for the safety of the West Coast, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the South, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as an old acquaintance asks for his help. This time it’s less of a story Charlie’s chasing, more of a desperate attempt to do the right thing before it’s too late…

The Dark Inside from debut author Rod Reynolds, was based loosely on the events surrounding The Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, where young couples were singled out at a local courting spot and brutally attacked. The Texarkana Phantom, as the killer was dubbed, killed five people and assaulted three more, but evaded apprehension, with the killings stopping as quickly as they had begun. With this as the central premise for the story,  Reynolds took us on an atmospheric, clever, and entirely plausible trip into a small community racked by fear and suspicion. Black Night Falling picks up the story just a few months on from the harrowing events of the first book featuring stoic reporter Charlie Yates, and there is more darkness in store…

Once again, Reynolds completely immerses us in the world of 1940’s America, incorporating insights into the American psyche, and referencing returning servicemen from World War II. Reynolds’ attention to the detail of the period is again completely on song, and the intense heat of his chosen location of Texas shimmers and scorches alongside the emotional intensity of Yates’ troublesome investigation. Particularly effective is Reynolds’ depiction of this small community of Hot Springs, with its local commerce being driven by corrupt local figures, and the mostly illegal activities of gambling and prostitution, allowing him to insinuate real life gangster figures into the plot, that are immediately recognisable to the reader. Also by placing Yates in this inward looking and suspicious community, it allows us to acknowledge for ourselves, the frustration and danger that he encounters in his search for the truth behind his friend’s untimely end.

Charlie Yates, our dogged reporter is once again bestowed with a real core of morality, and again Reynolds makes full use of his  character pivoting between outspoken arrogance to moments of extreme self doubt and emotional vulnerability. As in The Dark Inside, Yates must use all his guile and powers of investigation to navigate his way between local law enforcement, the press, and the mayoral head honcho, assimilating, disregarding, or challenging their versions of events at no mean danger to himself. As much as Yates is fed false leads or incomplete information, we as readers are also constantly questioning the veracity of the information he receives, and playing the who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy, game as the plot progresses. With Yates being so firmly front and centre of the plot, Reynolds’ cast of supporting characters are something of a conduit or mirror for his actions, but there is a good array of ne’er-do-wells, tarts with hearts, unlikely good guys, and a thoroughly pernicious killer at the heart of the story to keep you hooked. Admittedly, I am still a little unconvinced by the depiction of Yates’ personal life, and the slightly clichéd drawing on this in the plot to manipulate Yates’ actions, however, when book focuses purposefully on Yates’ dogged determination to track a killer and expose corruption, Reynolds keeps a realistic and tight rein of the unfolding plot. With The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling being so closely interlinked, Reynolds does endeavour to reference the first book in the second as Yates’ investigation has the overarching echo and ramifications of previous events, but I would urge you to read both books in quick succession, to fully appreciate the symbiosis of the two books, as sometimes the links between the two lose a little of their power in the reliance on sporadic back story.

When I reviewed The Dark Inside I said I was delighted to hear that there was a sequel in the offing, and more than happy to say that Reynolds has come up trumps again. Read both- you won’t be disappointed.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Black Night Falling_blog tour graphic

 

Raven’s #20BooksofSummer- Could do better…

20 booksOkay- a few weeks ago I eagerly signed up to the #20BooksOfSummer reading challenge hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books having made a rash decision to attempt to read the full twenty books. I selected my books, in hindsight too quickly, and without much thought, and, ahem, it hasn’t gone too well so far.   

So here is a bluntly truthful, and mercifully condensed look at the disaster that has so far been my 20 books of summer. It’s a mixed bag.  Maybe I’m just saving the best until last..

 

song-for-night_new-e1453221358992#1 Chris Abani- Song For Night:

Trained as a human mine detector, My Luck, a boy soldier in West Africa witnesses and takes part in unspeakable brutality. At 12, his vocal cords are cut to prevent him from screaming and giving away his platoon’s presence, should he be blown up.Awaking after an explosion to find that he’s lost his platoon, he traces his steps back through abandoned villages and rotting corpses – and through his own memories – in search of his comrades. The horrors of past events lead My Luck to find some glimmer of hope and beauty in this nightmarish place.

An incredibly harrowing and thought provoking read, that unsettles but ultimately completely immerses the reader in My Luck’s plight. I was moved and transfixed in equal measure, and this stands as one of the most powerful indictments of the futility, and barbarous nature of civil war I have ever read. Good start to my reading challenge.

echopraxia#2 Peter Watts- Echopraxia

It’s the eve of the 22nd century and the beginning of the end. Humanity splinters into strange new forms with every heartbeat: hive-minds coalesce, rapture-stricken, speaking in tongues; soldiers forgo consciousness for combat efficiency; a nightmare human subspecies has been genetically resurrected; half the population has retreated into the ersatz security of a virtual environment called Heaven. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to reveal itself. Daniel Bruks has turned his back on it all, taking refuge in the Oregon desert. As an un-augmented, baseline human he’s an irrelevance, a living fossil for whom extinction beckons. But he’s about to find himself an unwilling pilgrim on a voyage to the heart of the solar system that will bring the fractured remnants of mankind to the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought.

I wonder, having just re-read that synopsis why I thought this book would hold any shred of interest for me, or indeed any other living, breathing human. My failure to get past page twenty merely seeks to re-inforce my sheer bewilderment at the attraction of sci-fi for many, many undoubtedly intelligent, and supremely attractive people.

One day, in a galaxy far, far, away I will make it to the end of a sci-fi book….

   

#3 Paraic O’Donnell- The Maker of Swans

23525644Amid the fading grandeur of a country estate, Clara lives in the care of Mr Crowe, a man of many mysterious gifts, and his faithful manservant, Eustace. Free from rules and lessons, she inhabits a silent world of her own. She has her books, and her secret places. Mr Crowe was once the toast of the finest salons: a man of learning and means, he travelled the world, dazzling all who met him. Now, he devotes himself to earthly pleasures, while his great library gathers dust and his once magnificent gardens grow wild. But Mr Crowe and his extraordinary gifts have not been entirely forgotten. When he commits a crime of passion, he attracts the attention of Dr Chastern, the figurehead of a secret society to which Crowe still belongs. When Chastern comes to call him to account, his sinister attention is soon diverted to Clara. For Clara possesses gifts of her own, gifts whose power she has not yet fully grasped. She must learn to use them quickly, if she is to save them all.

I was undeterred by the fact that this book was favourably compared to three books I completely loathed. I should have been deterred. Fans of the three books I loathed will love it.

#4 Cynthia Ozick- The Puttermesser Papers

{4DDE25D1-A18A-4E90-8FA8-257A6C676C73}Img400Ruth Puttermesser lives in New York City. Her learning is monumental. Her love life is minimal (she prefers poring through Plato to romping with married Morris Rappoport). And her fantasies have a disconcerting tendency to come true – with disastrous consequences for what we laughably call ‘reality’. Puttermesser yearns for a daughter and promptly creates one, unassisted, in the form of the first recorded female golem. Labouring in the dusty crevices of the civil service, she dreams of reforming the city – and manages to get herself elected mayor. Puttermesser contemplates the afterlife and is hurtled into it headlong, only to discover that paradise found is paradise lost.

Despite my normally general affection for Ms. Ozick,  there was an extremely nifty perambulation from my hands into the charity shop bag. Overwritten, a whiff of pretentiousness, uncomfortably forced black humour and all a bit, well, depressing.

#5 S. E. Craythorne- How You See Me

25363034Daniel Laird has returned to Norfolk after a nine-year absence to care for his ailing artist father. He describes his uneasy homecoming in a series of letters to his sister, his boss, and to Alice, his one true love. But it is not until he discovers a hidden cache of his father’s paintings that the truth begins to surface about why he left all those years ago. The more Daniel writes, the more we learn about his past and the more we begin to fear for those he holds dear.

An unbearably claustrophobic and clever tale of deception that I challenge you not to read in one sitting. Tapping into the dark areas of the human psyche, and our ability to deceive others and conceal our true motives, this was a tense and compelling read.

#6 Robert Edeson- The Weaver Fish

weaverCambridge linguist Edvard Tøssentern reappears after a balloon crash in which he is presumed to have died. When he staggers in from a remote swamp, gravely ill and swollen beyond recognition, his colleagues at the research station are overjoyed. But Edvard’s discovery about a rare giant bird throws them all into the path of an international crime ring.

An impossible book to review with it’s myriad fictional forms, addendums, footnotes, and unreliable and shifting narration.

Totally, utterly, completely bonkers. Edeson is either a lunatic or a genius. Probably both.

#7 Diana Rosie- Alberto’s Lost Birthday

rosieAlberto is an old man. But he doesn’t know how old – he remembers nothing before his arrival at an orphanage during the Spanish civil war. He rarely thinks about his missing childhood, but when seven-year-old Tino discovers his grandfather has never had a birthday party, never blown out candles on a birthday cake, never received a single birthday present, he’s determined things should change. And so the two set out to find Alberto’s birthday. Their search for the old man’s memories takes them deep into the heart of Spain – a country that has pledged to forget its painful past. As stories of courage, cruelty and love unfold, Alberto realises that he has lost more than a birthday. He has lost a part of himself. But with his grandson’s help, he might just find it again.

Alexander McCall Smith does The Spanish Civil War. Moving on…

#8 David Peace- Tokyo Year Zero

peace-tokyo00August 1946. One year on from surrender and Tokyo lies broken and bleeding at the feet of its American victors.Against this extraordinary historical backdrop, Tokyo Year Zero opens with the discovery of the bodies of two young women in Shiba Park. Against his wishes, Detective Minami is assigned to the case; as he gets drawn ever deeper into these complex and horrific murders, he realises that his own past and secrets are indelibly linked to those of the dead women and their killer.

Pure brilliant.

8 DOWN….12 TO GO…The clock is ticking…

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Blog Tour- James Nally- Dance With The Dead

BLOG TOUR

 

 

 

 

 

Having been rather taken with Alone With The Dead by James Nally, introducing us to the hapless DC Donal Lynch, I was more than happy to join in the fun of a blog tour for the second book Dance With The Dead, but would the Raven’s black heart be gladdened again?

jnAspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago. Aspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago.PC Donal lands himself a place on the murder squad just as his unconventional brother, journalist Finton, unearths the secret double life of Elizabeth. The bodies mount, each clinging to the strands of hair belonging to the previous victim. The police are convinced it’s the act of a serial killer. But how does Donal convince them it’s not? The only people he can trust are the victims he dances with in his dreams…

It is incredibly satisfying to review a second book in a series that is the equal, if not slightly better than the first. As much as I enjoyed Alone With The Dead, Nally has absolutely nailed it with this outing for Donal and Finton Lynch, and lovely to see the re-appearance of the duplicitious Shep, a senior police officer that treads a very fine line between honesty, and well, dishonesty. From the outset Nally captures the marked differences between siblings Donal and Fintan, and yet the natural repartee, gentle joshing, and loyalty that they have to each other lies at the very core of their relationship. Donal is still a good-natured virginal alcoholic experiencing strange visitations from murder victims, and desperate to escape his banishment to the- excuse the pun- funereal confines of the Cold Case Unit. Eager to inveigle himself in a proper murder investigation, and aided by the rumbustious and completely unscrupulous Fintan, Donal gets the chance, but not without some added complications. Donal is a wonderfully empathetic character, with his bumbling gaucheness, undeniable intuition and as Nally reveals more of his knotty relationship with his father who pops up in this one, any reader could not help developing a certain affection for him. Fintan is equally likeable, exhibiting all the subtlety and charm you would expect of a scurrilous journalist, but deep down- deep, deep, down- has a certain nobility to his character, particularly in relation to his fierce defence and support of Donal, not always for his own benefit. In fact, Nally’s characterisation outside of his main protagonists, is spot on with an assorted cast list of prostitutes, erotic dancers, gangsters, hard men, not so hard men, a flirty forensics officer, and dodgy coppers, and his lightness of touch with the characterisation plays wonderfully well against what is a really quite disturbing investigation.

The plot is terrific, with its pinpoint playing out against a setting of the early 1990’s, which Nally consistently and at times just subtly keeps the reader’s awareness of the period, with cultural, social and political references. With the tentative first steps in the Irish peace process in the background, and proving incredibly relevant to a strand of the story involving Donal’s family, this is a gritty, and at times, perfectly gruesome investigation. Nally introduces some intriguing vignettes concerning forensic detection, and a very novel way of disposing of a corpse, in addition to constructing a seedy, sordid, and dark tale of betrayal and murder. I thought the control of plot was much stronger in this book, and the different emotional, and professional situations, that Donal was manipulated and changed by during the course of this exceptionally bleak murder case. The darker details of Donal’s search for a sadistic murderer is tempered by his positively ham-fisted attempts in matters of the heart, and delighted that, once again, the whole book contains a plethora of sharp one-liners, and flippant jokes that lightens the story along the way ( the Bullitt/Driving Miss Daisy line was a favourite). Kudos for making the  Raven guffaw again. Yep, I liked this one very much. Recommended.

 

(With thanks to Avon for the ARC)

 

 

 

July 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Aside from losing my internet access for 12 long, long days, July has really been quite productive and mostly enjoyable. A week off work, a birthday, and lots of terrific books read too! Had another heart-breaking book cull, which I imagine to be akin to asking a parent which is their favourite child, waving goodbye to 500+ books to my local charity shop, but still have a few hundred in reserve- hurrah!  And still on the positive,  I have at last made a slight in-road into my 20 Books of Summer Challenge- post coming soon. So, onward to the books…

Books read and reviewed:

Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh

Simon Booker- Without Trace

Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing

Frederic Dard- The Wicked Go To Hell

Frederic Dard-Bird In A Cage

Jonathan Ames- You Were Never Really Here

Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World

Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone

wilberI also dipped my toe back into non-fiction crime and read Del Quentin Wilber- A Good Month For Murder– which I would put very much on a par with David Simon’s Homicide or Mile Corwin’s The Killing Season. Wilber, an award winning reporter at The Washington Post, gives us a truly compelling behind the scenes look at the police officers and investigative cases of  a homicide squad. By following the progress of several cases and the dedicated officers who approach their task with a mixture of dedication, doggedness, and world weary cynicism, Wilber shines a light on the day-to-day frustrations and danger that this noble band of men and women grapple with, to go about their remit to protect and serve. Incredibly readable, well-researched and thought provoking throughout. Recommended.

Raven’s Book of the Month

No. I can’t do it. This has been an absolutely stellar month for reading with some real stand-out reads along the way. They are all so completely different and wonderful in their own way, so this is the fairest decision I can come to…

Extremely honourable mentions to Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh , Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World and Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing Seek these out immediately.

Carson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSH            cover_9781609453367_661_600        unseeing

And down to the wire, the twisted genius of Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding and the seedy,  gritty Glasgow gangland world of Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending proved impossible to choose between. Joint winners chaps and thoroughly deserved.

blood                   malcolm

 

Blog Tour- Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone- Review

A few years ago, way ahead of the fashionable, over-hyped, and largely disappointing array of domestic noir thrillers, Elizabeth Haynes wrote Into The Darkest Corner, untouched by girls, trains, nauseating middle class strife, and the like. To my mind, having dabbled in the current crop, Into The Darkest Corner still stands head and shoulders above what I have read to date in the domestic noir genre, in terms of its psychological depth, character development, the sheer visceral chill of a woman under threat, and how the reader can actually relate to and believe in the insidious danger that Haynes presented to us. Having read most of Haynes’ books since, I was more than happy to curl up with her latest book, Never Alone and post a review for this blog tour marking its publication…

haynesSarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie. When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant. After Sophie disappears, it’s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah’s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust. But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he?

And so to Never Alone, and Haynes once again with an immediate intensity, draws us into the life of Sarah Carpenter, an emotionally fragile woman three years on from the loss of her husband, and residing in a metaphorically empty nest with her two children having left home for differing reasons. What Haynes disseminates so well in this book is the nature of human relationships, and every character is used to explore the differing connections we make with one another. As the following demonstrates there are numerous different permutations of characters’ connections to one another throughout the book. Sarah finds herself emotionally unsettled by the reappearance of an old flame, Aiden, who takes up residence in a small cottage aligning her property, concealing certain revelations about his past interactions with her late husband, and the shocking reveal of his current career choice. She is also grappling with missing her daughter Kitty who is at university (who is also experiencing her first love affair) and the minimal contact with her son Louis, who has his own reasons for shunning her. Sarah also has only one close friendship in this small community, with glamorous and larger than life politician’s wife, Sophie, which seems an unlikely alliance, and when Sarah is plunged into the company of others seems rather a square peg in a round hole. Then there is Will, a friend of her son’s Louis, who comes to the attention of Aiden and Sophie for differing reasons, and Sophie and Aiden also have a connection. Haynes perfectly controls the gradual reveals about the deeper connections between various characters, and by splitting the narrative in sections between them, gives her a real opportunity to explore their psychology, and allows us to see the same scenarios from different viewpoints.

Sometimes I felt that the characterisation was a little diminished by the need to so completely control all their connections to one another, and how these would bring the action together at the denouement of the book, and felt there was a certain amount of repetition in how Sarah was presented. In particular, her critique of her own life, that did seem to be endlessly re-treading the same analysis of her emotional and financial situation. I hesitate to use the word annoying, but she didn’t engage my empathy as much as she should have. I did, however, like the characters of Louis and Sophie very much, who had interesting textures and quirks to them which I would have like to have seen more fully explored, and Aiden proved a pivotal figure to the book with shades of light and dark to keep the reader on their toes. There is also a sinister stream of consciousness by a certain character, that runs chillingly throughout the book, alerting us to the danger of an individual on the brink of violence, and Haynes largely conceals the identity of this person until a crucial point in the plot.

I very much liked the setting of the book, using the North Yorkshire Moors, as an immovable and threatening backdrop in the grip of winter, reflecting the psychological bleakness and threat of the main plot. The perfectly placed reveals of one character’s connection to another drove the plot consistently at a measured and controlled pace, and although the unveiling of the bad egg in the whole affair did not come as a real surprise, there was a good amount of tension and suspicion built up along the way to keep reading on. Although not entirely convinced why the bad person did what they did for the reasons they did and how this was played out, I feel that the consistency of the writing up until that point more than justifies giving this one a look. Perhaps, this is a testament to the writing of Haynes herself that even, in my humble opinion, a slightly below par book from her is still immeasurably more enjoyable than others in her chosen genre. Recommended.

(With thanks to Myriad Editions for the ARC)

Catch up with the #NeverAlone Blog Tour at these excellent sites:

Never Alone blog tour

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

malcolm

Usman Kassar is comfortable in his older brother’s shadow, for now. Staying off the radars of the big players lets him plan big scores with little danger of detection. But dangerous jobs will get you noticed, whether you want them to or not.

Martin Sivok is a gunman without a target. An outsider in a new city who doesn’t know how to make a fresh start. But when you desperately need doors to start opening, someone like Usman might just persuade you to pull at the wrong handle – like the one that opens a safe full of dirty money. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, one of the most dangerous criminal outfits in town, wants back.

Any job can have brutal consequences when it threatens the reputation of Nate Colgan. Nate can’t help being frightening; a man with darkness inside him. As the reluctant ‘security consultant’ for a fracturing criminal organization, he knows that unless he recovers the stolen money quickly, much more than his livelihood will be on the line. But if you’ve been forced into a job that you know could be your ending, how hard will you fight to keep it?

I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm Mackay is rather a favourite of mine, having previously, and favourably, reviewed most of his books to date. For Those Who Know The Ending is the latest in his series of Glasgow based thrillers, and once again we are plunged into the seedy underbelly of gangland life…

There is much to admire with Mackay’s spare and precise prose, so clearly in evidence again here, and the clipped dialogue, which perfectly reflects the feeling of his male protagonists as men of action where violence achieves more than conversational intercourse. Interestingly, it’s only when these tough guys reflect on their home situation and their closest emotional ties, that these characters display anything akin to human compassion, and the importance of the women in their lives comes to the fore. It’s also this aspect of their characters that delves beneath their steely and uncompromising roles in their gangland affiliations, and exposes moments of self-doubt. This works as an effective foil to what could just be a linear and superficial tale of male bravado, and harks back wonderfully to the golden age of American hard-boiled noir, when even the most ‘male’ of male characters are unsettled by female influence. This is reflected by Nate Colgan, nominally keeping up the interests of the imprisoned gangland boss Peter Jamieson’s criminal organisation, his hired heavy Gully Fitzgerald, and by Martin Sivok, a gunman of Czech descent trying to forge his path in the badlands of Glasgow, whose domestic situations are drawn on periodically throughout the book, and revealing different aspects of their character in their interaction with their better halves. This serves to heighten the reader’s sympathy as the themes are love and loss are brought to the fore, bringing a sense of emotional poignancy amidst the uncompromising violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series to date, fret not, as once again there is the useful inclusion of characters that have featured previously, so even a nominal reference to a character now deceased or incarcerated is easy to catch up with. I particularly like this feeling of each book being akin to a single act in a lengthy saga, and how the permutations of shifting alliances, and eager newcomers ready to make their mark, fit into the overall story arc. Mackay controls the narrative beautifully, and there is a real sense of us being fully immersed in the double crossing and chicanery that accompanies the story of Sivok and his wily, young associate Usman Kassar, who dreams up financially lucrative schemes to hit the illegal business of predominant gangland figures. Obviously this brings them very much onto the radar of Nate Colgan, endeavouring to keep house for Jamieson’s empire, and Mackay develops a controlled and compelling story with our young pretender, Kassar, and, at times, unwilling cohort Sivok as Colgan seeks his vengeance. As always each character is perfectly formed, and as mentioned earlier, Mackay injects a multi-layered aspect to his characterisation of these main protagonists to great affect. With the world these men inhabit and operate in, there is always a simmering undercurrent of violence, which when it bursts forth is brutal and unflinching, adding a frisson to the whole affair, and ramping up the tension to the nth degree.

Obviously as a devotee of the American hard-boiled noir genre, I am constantly delighted by Mackay’s accomplishment at transposing this style onto his contemporary Glasgow setting, and his now trademark spare prose, so resolutely in evidence again in For Those Who Know The Ending. Equally, the multi-layered nature of his characterisation opens up the more emotive facets of his characters, serving to unsettle the reader and shift our alliances. Impressed once again, and once more, highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

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